Professional judges’ disbelief in free will and punishment

Contributors:
  1. Heinz Hawickhorst
  2. Ellen Aschermann

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Description: There is a debate in psychology and philosophy on the societal consequences of casting doubts about individuals’ belief in free will. Research suggests that experimentally reducing free will beliefs might affect how individuals evaluate others’ behavior. Past research has demonstrated that reduced free will beliefs decrease laypersons’ tendency towards retributive punishment. This finding has been used as an argument for the idea that promoting anti-free will viewpoints in the public media might have severe consequences for the legal system, because it may move judges towards softer retributive punishments. However, actual implications for the legal system can only be drawn by investigating professional judges. In the present research, we investigated whether judges (N = 87) are affected by reading anti-free will messages. The results demonstrate that although reading anti-free will texts reduces judges’ belief in free will, their recommended sentences are not influenced by their (manipulated) belief in free will.

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